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scientists comment on biotechnology and agriculture report

The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commision (AEBC) published its report “Animals and Biotechnology”, calling for new ground rules for GM and cloned animals in agriculture.

 

Professor John Oldham, Head of Research and Development in SAC (Scottish Agricultural College), said:

“This is an important report and to be welcomed. There are potentially very significant benefits from the development of GM animals to produce human health products, and the application of biotechnologies to improve animals’ own health and welfare might be attractive if there are not equally effective alternatives. The question as to whether the use of GM and cloning techniques in animals is necessary or acceptable for other purposes is a matter of concern to the public and to the livestock industries.

“An appropriate advisory and regulatory framework is needed to make sure that any future developments in the use of GM and cloning with animals is done in light of proper public debate and with appropriate controls. The production of this report now, with its recommendations, will help all of those with an interest in animals to be proactive in informing public debate and regulatory action.”

 

Dr Harry Griffin, Assistant Director (Science), Roslin Institute, said:

“This is a missed opportunity. Too much of the report was given to cataloguing potential problems – many of them imaginary – and too little to providing solutions. In my view, the report should have provided a critical examination of the adequacy or otherwise of existing regulations, an analysis that I believe would have reassured rather than alarmed the public.

“As with GM crops, the first approvals for GM animals to enter the food chain will be outside the UK and the initial issue for the government and consumers here will not be about the welfare of the animals, but about the safety and labelling of imported meat, eggs or milk products. Tracing the origins of GM or cloned meat, milk or egg products will be particularly difficult, and it is disappointing that the AEBC did not consider how this issue might be addressed.

“I’m also not convinced of the proposed focus on ‘genetic biotechnology’. The Roslin Institute recommends strengthening the role of the Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) to consider the implications of genetics on livestock, irrespective of whether these were a consequence of conventional selection, marker assisted genetic modification, or cloning. The FAWC report on cloning, published in 1999, was excellent and it is disappointing that the government has yet to respond to it.””

 

Professor David Morton, Professor of Biomedical Ethics and Science at Birmingham University, said:

“The justification for the genetic modification is key: making farm animals resistant to disease is very different to making pet animals look nicer.

“This report offers the public more of a chance to participate in the ethical debate, unlike many previous scientific advances. However, we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and carefully evaluate each modification, rather than labeling it all bad or all good.

“But why do we need another strategic advisory body when we could integrate the legitimate concerns within the existing AEBC?”

 

Professor Lord Winston, Wolfson/Weston Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, Imperial College, said:

“Whilst the surveillance of farmed GM animals and pets recommended by the report seems sensible, and that the restrictions on fish and insects are appropriate, it really is vital that legislation and regulation does not become more restrictive when GM animals for medical research are considered.

“Broadly speaking, the existing regulation is so tight it takes far too long to get license for relatively minor transgenic experiments (for example on mice) which cause little or no suffering. This is now resulting in UK science dropping behind and also has an effect on the health of the pharmaceutical industry and attractiveness of the UK for their investment. This is genuinely important to the health and economic welfare of all UK citizens.

“Many researchers, including myself, are seeking to do experiments in the USA where animal care is just as compassionate and properly conducted but where takes a few weeks to get approval for work rather than a year.

“My worry about a strategic advisory body is that it could delay the licensing machinery even more which would have the most serious implications for British science – and in an area to which the British public have largely not shown hostility.”

 

Dr Ian Jackson, Human Genetics Unit, Senior Scientist, Medical Research Council, said:

“The report focuses on the use of GM and cloned animals in agriculture and biotechnology, however all transgenic animals, whether used in agriculture or for medical research are at present covered by the legislation in the Animals in Scientific Procedures Act. In the future there may need to be a clear distinction between the two, especially considering that the Commission is calling for a new strategic advisory body to look at applying GM and cloning in farming.”

 

Mr Peter Jinman, President-elect of the British Vetinary Association, said:

“The vetinary profession is very concerned about genetic modification of animals, and we’re obviously particularly interested in the welfare of these animals. We feel that genetically modifying animals for ill-defined purposes is not acceptable, and we hope that this report will stimulate an open debate involving consultation with scientists and the public.”

 

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